When Randall Travel Marketing a year ago presented a study of Columbia County's efforts at bringing in tourists, it told us some things we already knew, or thought we knew: Tourism is valuable. Fishing tournaments don't put many people in hotels. Our visitors center is too far from most visitors.
But one of the more important aspects of the study was to bring complete strangers to the county and have them look around. What they found was that Columbia County can be unfriendly to travelers.
First, there is no consistent appearance to the signs welcoming visitors at the county's borders. Such signs help establish the community's identity, but they also let visitors, such as the crowds who came to town for the recent Dixie Ponytails World Series, immediately know when they've arrived.
Second, once inside the county, amenities and attractions are pretty much on their own in terms of visibility to visitors. That's fine, perhaps, for commercial establishments. But what about a first-time visitor who'd like to go to Savannah Rapids Pavilion, or to the amphitheater, or to the Grovetown Museum?
Natives can easily dismiss these issues because we're already here. But the Randall Marketing study made it clear that we need to do a better job visually welcoming people to the county and helping them get around while they're here.
Since that study was presented, a Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau committee has been working to come up with entrance and "wayfinding" signs.
The first tangible result was unveiled Aug. 3, when committee chair Cathy Hayes unveiled a design for the entry signs and won approval from commissioners for installation of two of them.
To sidestep state bureaucracy, those first two signs will be installed at entrances on county roads: Flowing Wells and Stevens Creek. The next step, though, is up to county residents, who are being asked to provide feedback.
The danger to such a request is that negative comments typically are more prevalent. People who like or are ambivalent about something are less likely to respond than those who dislike it, so unless the committee members keep that in perspective they're likely to be discouraged by the feedback.
It doesn't help that the CVB is penny-pinching, spending only a tiny fraction on its signs - about $3,000 to start - compared to the whopping $100,000 project that created those elegant signs welcoming visitors to Augusta. Being thrifty is good, but it might be hard for residents to understand why our signs don't look as nifty as Augusta's.
Keep that price tag in mind as one of the factors in favor of Columbia County's signs when deciding how they look. And then be sure to look for the upcoming surveys at www.visitcocoga.com to give feedback.
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